Page 3 of 13
Native habitat gardening brings local pollinators
By NANCY BAUER
Created: 09/03/2013 12:33:35 AM PDT
An Anise Swallowtail butterfly is a native pollinator commonly seen by backyard gardeners. (Mieko Watkins/Courtesy)
My native habitat gardening journey started almost 20 years ago, right after viewing a slide show presentation by two passionate butterfly gardeners.
The magic of those butterfly gardens resurrected memories of a favorite childhood garden -- a glorious tangle of fragrant flowers, hanging vines, and sweet purple grapes. Growing wild next to the vegetable garden was a stand of milkweed that brought in Monarch butterflies in the late summer, and later fascinated me with fluffy seed heads that floated off in the wind.
Most everyone wants to see butterflies in the garden, but true pollinator habitat means planting for the butterfly caterpillars, too. The female butterfly lays her eggs on specific host plants and these are the only plants that caterpillar species can feed on. They can be anything from trees and shrubs to grasses and other ground plants.
For some butterflies, like the Monarch, there is only one host plant -- milkweed. With Monarch populations in serious decline we need to plant milkweed, especially along the Monarch's migratory route. (In northern California, Monarchs migrate around September.) There are various native milkweeds to choose from including narrowleaf milkweed and showy milkweed.
In the Sacramento area, the once common West Coast Lady and Anise Swallowtail butterflies are now much harder to find. The West Coast Ladies and Painted Ladies use lupines and members of the mallow family, such as checkerbloom, desert or bush mallow, and cheeseweed for their host plants. The black and yellow Anise Swallowtail uses members of the carrot family (umbellifers).
Avoid non-native invasive wild fennel, and stick with lovage, angelica, bronze fennel, culinary fennels, parsley, or dill to attract this butterfly to your garden. The Western Tiger Swallowtail is also frequent visitor and use willows as host plants. Another common garden butterfly in our region, the Buckeye, uses snapdragons and their relatives as hosts. If you find black caterpillars on your snapdragons, you may be hosting Buckeye butterflies. Be sure to plant enough to share!
If you want to find out which butterflies hang out in your neighborhood, plant a butterfly bush and buy a good butterfly guide. When you have identified the butterflies, plant their caterpillar food plants. The huge aster-sunflower family provides us with many good butterfly nectar plants, and they offer a broad landing platform. Be sure to plant your nectar flowers in drifts of just one species, which is much more attractive to butterflies and other pollinators than if you plant many different nectar flowers, but only one of each kind.
The key to creating habitat for butterflies and other pollinators is to grow a diversity of good nectar plants that bloom in different seasons. Put your butterfly host plants near nectar plants but in the more "wild" parts of the garden where there is less activity and foot traffic. Be an informal (and organic) gardener. Be less eager to prune and clean up: butterfly chrysalides could be hiding most anywhere in the garden.
The first butterflies to arrive in my garden nectar on my native sages which bloom early in spring. In late spring and summer, they have moved to the buddleias, verbenas, and scabiosa, and in the fall, they nectar on asters, Michelmas daisies and Mexican sunflowers (which is a favorite of Monarch butterflies). This year, I was thrilled to see pipevine swallowtails and their caterpillars on the Dutchman's pipe; and because I grow coffeeberry, creambush, willow and ceanothus, I frequently see Pale Swallowtails, Spring Azures, and Lorquin's Admirals in my garden. Plant for butterflies. They will come.
-- Nancy Bauer is a wildlife habitat gardener in Sonoma County, and is the author of "The California Wildlife Habitat Garden." Tuleyome Tales is a monthly publication of Tuleyome, a conservation organization with offices in Woodland and Napa. For more information go online to www.tuleyome.org.
Lake County News | California
Tuleyome Tales: Water witches
Saturday, 03 August 2013 22:44 Mary K. Hanson
Dragonflies are larger than damselflies and have large, multifaceted eyes. Photos by Mary K. Hanson.
You see them all over the region this time of year, wherever there’s a slow-moving or still body of water nearby, flitting around on specialized wings sometimes in excess of 30 miles per hours.
They’re sometimes called “water witches” or “fairies spinning needles,” but most of us just call them dragonflies and damselflies.
One of the most common dragonflies you’ll see this time of year is the Flame Skimmer.
Their bodies are up to 3 inches long, and are fiery red-orange in color (including their eyes and the veins in their wings).
Males are generally brighter in color than the females. Kathy Biggs, an expert in California Odonates (dragonflies and damselflies), says that you’ll most likely find the males nearer the water, and the females further inland.
To catch a photo of a male Flame, Biggs suggests, just hold a stick down near the water’s edge. Perching-sticks attract males, who may come and sit for a while to survey their territory.
“Even if he flits away immediately, be patient; there’s a 50% chance he’ll come back,” said Biggs.
Some species of Odonates can live up to six years, but the majority of their lifetime is spent underwater as voracious nymphs called naiads.
The alien-looking wingless naiads will eat just about anything, including fish and tadpoles that are bigger than they are.
When mature, the naiad will climb up onto the stem of a nearby plant, shed its skin (called exuvia) and emerge as a pale dragonfly or damselfly. Their color intensifies as they grown older.
Dragonflies are sometimes called “water witches” or “fairies spinning needles.” Photo by Mary K. Hanson.
Adult dragonflies are generally much larger in size than damselflies, and when they land they hold their wings out away from their bodies. Damselflies fold their wings neatly against their backs.
You may also see pairs of dragonflies or pairs of damselflies in a tied-together formation called “in wheel”; this is the configuration they use when mating.
After mating, the females will generally head toward water to lay their eggs, and the males patrol in a “hover-glide” fashion to keep other marauding males away from them.
The female Flame Skimmer actually “splashes” her eggs into the water so they bounce up and adhere to nearby water plants. This keeps hungry fish from gobbling up her eggs before they have a chance to develop.
One of the most prominent features of the dragonfly is its set of huge multifaceted eyes. The eyes, which can vary in color, have as many as 30,000 separate lenses.
Most dragonflies have broad-spectrum color vision and can even see into the ultraviolet range. Damselflies, like the Vivid Dancer, one of the species most regularly seen in our area, likewise have excellent color vision.
The male Vivids are a glorious neon-blue with black bands and stripes on their bodies. The females are usually dusky tan or even chalk-white.
To snap some photos of the Vivids, Kathy Biggs suggests looking for them as they bask on sunlit trails near the water and on wooden bridges.
“For some reason, they just seem to love places like that,” said Biggs.
When you first approach a Vivid, it may clap its wings together as a warning for you to get away from its territory, but don’t worry. Damselflies and dragonflies don’t have stingers.
In California there are about 113 different species of Odonates, and what’s extra special for those of us who live in the counties encompassing the Berryessa Snow Mountain region is the fact that almost half of those species live right here.
According to Biggs they are easiest to find on sunny days when there is little wind, and it’s best to approach them slowly and directly (rather than quickly and at an angle). So get out there and photograph some of these “water witches” while the summer months last.
Tuleyome thanks the Xerces Society ( www.xercessociety.com ) and Odonate expert Kathy Biggs for their assistance with this article. You can find Biggs’ guides to identifying local dragonflies and damselflies on the web at www.sonic.net/dragonfly . Tuleyome Tales is a monthly publication of Tuleyome, a conservation organization with offices in Woodland and Napa, Calif. Visit www.tuleyome.org . Mary K. Hanson is a local amateur naturalist and photographer.